COLUMBIA — This wasn't how Kayla Rice and Amanda Phillips imagined their senior day.
Instead of the familiar gray uniforms of Columbia College, they wore neon green T-shirts and navy blue jogging pants as they greeted their coach at midcourt in the pregame ceremony at the Arena at Southwell Complex.
As their teammates ran shooting drills before the game, they stood under the basket, retrieving rebounds and passing the ball to their healthy teammates as they circled the perimeter.
When the game began, Phillips joined her teammates on the bench, where her 6-foot-3 frame towered over her teammates. Rice sat in the stands on the opposite side of the court with her hands in her lap, chatting with her mother and munching on popcorn.
The teammates, who were both named to the All-American Midwest Conference team last season, have had to watch from the sidelines since they both tore their anterior cruciate ligaments within two weeks of each other in November and December. On Saturday, they watched their team, which had already clinched its fourth straight regular-season conference title, close the regular season with a 84-60 victory over Harris-Stowe State.
Phillips said her emotions could be summed up in one word: disappointment.
"It's full of unfulfilled expectations," she said. "Every second is hard because, naturally, we're seniors. We've been here. We've been through it all."
Cougars coach Mike Davis praised his players for their poise throughout the recovery process.
"They have both been young ladies that, in a really tough situation, handled it well," he said. "It's very tough when you're such a big part of something on the court and to have that taken away from you."
Rice and Phillips, who had both been captains of the team, have seen their team grow up quickly to reclaim the conference championship.
"It became a really young team after we both got hurt," Phillips said. "You could tell right after we were both hurt that they were struggling as a team. It took them until, I think, second semester to get it really together."
Davis said it took a lot of tinkering to get the team back to the level it is at. Rice, who had been the team's point guard, was replaced by a freshman, Tierney Seifert. Heather English and Airelle Eldridge stepped up to fill the offensive void, while Julie Teeple took over some of Phillips' defensive responsibilities.
With only seven healthy players on the team, the Cougars have had to cut down on fouls, something that frustrated Harris-Stowe on Saturday.
"We have to play defense with our bodies," Davis said. "We called one timeout today for a simple reason: we were reaching a little bit. Those are just things we don't have the luxury to do."
The Cougars' two healthy seniors helped lead the team Saturday, with Eldridge scoring 22 points and Kirsti Wilkerson adding 14.
Although it took the Cougars a couple of months to adjust to the loss of Rice and Phillips, the team has momentum heading into the AMC tournament, having won six straight.
The team will begin the postseason on Wednesday, when it hosts Stephens College at 7 p.m. Columbia College will have home-court advantage throughout the tournament.